Sharing Canada’s Prosperity – A Hand Up, Not A Handout
Special Study on the involvement of Aboriginal communities and businesses in economic development activities in Canada
In November 2004, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples agreed to undertake a study examining issues concerning Aboriginal economic development. In particular, the Committee sought to understand what accounts for the economic success of some Aboriginal communities, while others have not achieved success despite advantages of resources and location.Over the two-year course of the study, the Committee held 31 meetings and heard from 155 witnesses. Public hearings took place in Ottawa, Alberta, British Columbia, northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and the Committee undertook fact-finding initiatives to: Halifax and Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, the Kahnawá:ke Mohawk reserve situated in Québec; and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band located in northern Saskatchewan. The Committee also heard from a number of Aboriginal and industry representatives in the Northwest Territories.
Aboriginal people in this country shoulder an immense historic burden. Most relied on subsistence economies based on hunting, fishing and trapping. European business culture was unfamiliar and efforts to bring them into the mainstream were frequently misconceived and often destructive. Relegated to small unproductive parcels of land and isolated from mainstream economies, they were unable to maintain their own economic systems or participate in the post-colonial one, except at the margins. The result was, and is, a significant “economic gap” between Aboriginal people and the Canadian population, generally. Despite considerable efforts by successive governments to improve the social and economic conditions of Aboriginal people, many continue to lag behind the rest of the Canadian population when measured against nearly every social and economic indicator.
The Committee believes that assisting Aboriginal communities build their economies and position themselves to take advantage of economic opportunities is vital to addressing existing social challenges. Indeed, in many instances, it is impossible to imagine how social conditions will improve without meaningful support for the development of an adequate economic base and increased participation in mainstream local and regional economies.
In dozens of communities across Canada, Aboriginal involvement in economic development activities has done more to change the lives of Aboriginal people in the last decade than any number of government programs. Where the seeds of economic action have taken root, they have blossomed. Guided by visionary leaders, these communities made the leap to the modern industrial economy, often in a single generation. These remarkable successes, many of which are documented in this report, have changed the future of communities and contributed to the economic well-being of entire regions.
Nevertheless, the Committee is aware that, for a significant segment of the Aboriginal population, some of whom continue to struggle to acquire even the most basic services, for their communities, such as adequate housing and health care, the promise held by economic development may still be far away. Over the course of the study, some Committee members, such as Senator Aurélien Gill, expressed ongoing concern that other, more pressing issues affecting Aboriginal people warranted greater focus and priority by the Committee. The dire conditions and challenges in a number of Aboriginal communities throughout the country, such as Kashechewan or Pikangikum, are urgent and require immediate attention. The report’s focus on economic development should not overshadow these important issues.
Ensuring that Aboriginal people share in the economic wealth and prosperity of this country, however, is essential to achieving improved social outcomes. The two are inextricably linked. Moreover, continued dependency on government transfers and economic marginalization is unacceptable to Aboriginal people. They want a hand up, we were told, not a handout.
The Committee recognizes the common commitment Aboriginal people share in wanting to re-build and build their economies. In this report, we put forward a number of practical proposals, based on the evidence before us, which, if implemented in a serious and dedicated fashion by the federal government, we believe will lead to improved economic outcomes for Aboriginal people and, indeed, for Canada as a whole.
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